Sandy Alcantara stepped onto the mound at his home ballpark on Monday and took a long, hard look at his former team.
It was almost 18 months ago that Alcantara, a rising pitching prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals system, was traded to the Miami Marlins as the centerpiece of a trade for outfielder Marcell Ozuna, the second of four big trades the Marlins made in that offseason ahead of the 2018 season to begin their organizational rebuild under the Bruce Sherman-Derek Jeter ownership group.
Alcantara was excited for the matchup, yearning for a chance to strike out Ozuna and have a solid night against the team that opened the door to his professional baseball career.
The Cardinals got the better of him.
While Alcantara only gave up five hits — two of which were to Ozuna — the Marlins’ up-and-coming right-handed pitcher was pulled early in the sixth with a high pitch count and after a fielding error by catcher Jorge Alfaro that gave the Cardinals a cushion in their 4-1 win to open a three-game series at Marlins Park. The Marlins (23-41) have lost five consecutive games — including the first four of a nine-game homestand — after winning 13 of 18 before this stretch. The Cardinals improve to 32-32.
“Quite honestly, a really disappointing game,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “It doesn’t look terrible because it’s a 4-1 game. It looks like maybe it was a game or whatever, but really disappointing with the energy. Thought we got away from our gameplan.”
Alcantara saw a streak of 21 consecutive scoreless innings pitched at home snapped in the fourth when Yario Munoz ripped an RBI double to left field that scored Ozuna, who recorded a one-out double two batters earlier.
The real damage, however, came in the sixth. After Paul Goldschmidt singled and Ozuna walked to start the inning, second baseman Kolten Wong dropped down a bunt that dribbled a few feet in front of home plate. Jorge Alfaro fired an errant throw to first that sailed past Garrett Cooper and into right field. Both Goldschmit and Ozuna scored on the error, while Wong made it to third base. Alcantara’s night ended there.
“I tried to get an out for him,” Alfaro said. “I threw the ball away.”
Alcantara threw 96 pitches — 17 of which came in three plate appearances against Ozuna — with six strikeouts and four walks.
“Lack of aggression,” Mattingly said, a phrase that has been uttered after a few of Alcantara’s starts this year. “Didn’t seem like he really wanted to get after it in the strike zone today.”
Wong scored on a Harrison Bader sacrifice fly against reliever Austin Brice to complete the three-run inning. All three runs were unearned.
The Marlins, meanwhile, struggled offensively for the fourth time in five games. Alfaro and Harold Ramirez recorded five of their seven hits. The duo combined for the Marlins’ only run of the game when Alfaro’s RBI groundout to second base in the seventh scored Ramirez.
The Marlins grounded into three double plays, and Alfaro was picked off at second base in the third.
With Caleb Smith on the 10-day Injured List with left hip inflammation, the Marlins will activate right-handed pitcher Elieser Hernandez to start on Tuesday and will pitch in Smith’s spot in the rotation for the time being.
Hernandez, 24, has been dominant for Triple A New Orleans in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, posting a 1.13 ERA with 69 strikeouts to just 14 walks in 48 innings of work. He is holding opponents to a .194 batting average.
He has had two short stints with the Marlins this season in a bullpen role, but the Marlins view him as a starter and have kept him primarily in Triple A this season to allow him to progress in his development.
“Elieser has been throwing the ball good,” Mattingly said. “He’s been starting the whole year. ... Obviously we hope he throws the ball good [Tuesday].”